News Column

Whitey Bulger Defense Lobs 'Hail Mary' Plan

June 3, 2013

The defense team in James "Whitey" Bulger's murder trial will argue today what legal critics are calling a string of "Hail Mary" motions, lobbed at the last minute last week by his lawyers in what other defense lawyers say looks like a strategic bid to gain control of the mobster's image in front of the jury.

"It looks like Bulger's Hail Mary. He's fighting for his life," said attorney Steven Boozang, whose clients have included former New England Mafia godfather Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme.

"They're trying to paint the defendant in a certain way, but the toothpaste is out of the tube," Boston attorney William Kickham said. "Any sentient being has already heard of Whitey Bulger and his reputation. And if they aren't quite convinced of it yet, that would be a rarity."

U.S. District Court Judge Denise J. Casper has set the last pretrial conference for today to consider J.W. Carney Jr. and Hank Brennan's 11th-hour motions, filed last week, before the trial formally starts with jury selection tomorrow. The defense motions ask the judge to:

--Restrict the testimony of family members of Bulger's alleged 19 victims to basic facts least likely to inflame the emotions of jurors;

--Strike the phrase "The Bulger Group" from the trial because, "The government's use of the term implies that James Bulger is solely responsible for the activities of the countless members of various alleged criminal organizations," according to the motion;

--Allow the defense to point out the feds' "hypocrisy" for using convicted killers like Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi and John Martorano as witnesses for the prosecution they previously damned as "sick" and untrustworthy.

The apparent goal, experts say, is to control the language, the imagery and ultimately the way their client is viewed, in a likely bid to reduce the severity of any verdicts against him.

Longtime counsel to accused mobsters Anthony Cardinale said, "Considering the nature of the client they're dealing with, the monster that he is, it's very important to change the perception and have people take their eye off the ball."

But Kickham countered, "I don't see them as game-changers, I see them as damage control ... you can't put a shine on a sneaker."

Among other points, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Kelly, Fred Wyshak Jr. and Zachary Hafer are expected to argue at this afternoon's hearing that the defense motions should be dismissed because they missed the court's May 23 deadline -- an infraction the defense blamed on their overwhelming trial preparation.

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Source: Copyright Boston Herald (MA) 2013